As we enter the home stretch of the judicial elections, a controversy that may influence the 2010 judicial elections is shaping up. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Montgomery heard cross-motions for summary judgment last week in the case Gregory Wersal v. Patrick Sexton, chair of the Minnesota Board of Judicial Standards, et al. Wersal challenges the portions of the code of judicial conduct that prohibit judicial candidates from endorsing other candidates and restrict solicitation of funds.
Wersal sought a preliminary injunction from Montgomery earlier this year that was denied because he did not file for office, his attorney, James Bopp of Indiania, said. Bopp said Montgomery asked many questions at the injunction hearing but very few this time around.
Wersal said last summer he would definitely run for the Supreme Court in 2010. Apparently referring to the court, he said at the time, "By then they better damn well watch themselves.”
Wersal was a co-plaintiff in Republican Party of Minnesota, et al. v. White, et al., in which the U.S. Supreme Court and 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down as free-speech violations most of Minnesota’s restrictions on judicial campaigns. The rules at issue in Wersal’s current lawsuit were not addressed in White -- although the sweeping language of White has left their vitality suspect.
It’s worth remembering that Wersal lost the first rounds in White when U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis dismissed the case. The 8th Circuit affirmed in an 89-page decision written by Judge John R. Gibson. But the Supreme Court accepted cert, thereby permanently altering Minnesota’s judicial landscape. It’s certain that the summary judgment decision will be just a step on a long path.
The terms of four justices of the Supreme Court will be at stake in 2010—Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and Justices Christopher Dietzen, Helen Meyer and Alan Page. Wersal ran against Page in 1998.